Hypsiphobia: The Fear of Heights

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What is Hypsiphobia?

written by: Justin Davis • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/19/2010

Hypsiphobia, or the fear of heights, is one of the most common mental health disorders, or phobias, experienced in the world. But what are the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments for hypsiphobia? Continue reading to find out.

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    What is Hypsiphobia?

    For many people, traveling to the top of the Empire State Building is a fantastic experience. For others, it is a terrifying and paralyzing nightmare. These people have hypsiphobia - the fear of heights. Hypsiphobia is a common mental health disorder, characterized by anxious thoughts and behaviors about the phobia. For some hypsiphobes, even taking an elevator can cause extreme anxiety.

    As with many other anxiety disorders and specific phobias, it is important to understand the causes, symptoms and treatments that are effective in order to help those afflicted by hypsiphobia.

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    What Causes Hypsiphobia?

    The primary causes of hypsiphobia are most typically attributed to past trauma, such as a fall from a ladder, feelings of vertigo while looking out of a window, getting stuck in a tree or similar events. Also, if there was a traumatic event that happened to a close friend or family member that involved heights, those anxious feelings may be transferred onto a young individual.

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    Symptoms of Hypsiphobia

    Unfortunately, symptoms of hypsiphobia can strike any time a hypsiphobic is even thinking about heights or tall objects. People with hypsiphobia sometimes understand their fear is irrational, but still cannot control it.

    Symptoms:

    • Feelings of panic
    • Lightheadedness
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Intense anxiety
    • Urge to escape situation
    • Nausea
    • Sweating
    • Intense, irrational fear of heights

    Many of the symptoms listed above are hard to predict, as hypsiphobes who live in major metropolitan areas are constantly surrounded by large buildings. Even for those who do not live in big cities, many TV shows, sports programs and other media sources portray sweeping views of cities from the air, potentially causing intense symptoms of hypsiphobia. Fortunately, there are several treatment options proven to work for those who have the fear of heights.

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    Treatments for Hypsiphobia

    Generally speaking, specific phobias often become more debilitating over time, and may require medication to reduce the severity of symptoms. There are several treatment options available to hypsiphobes that may work well.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly offered therapies for patients with phobias. CBT focuses on a patient's fears and why they exist and ultimately challenges the thought processes behind those fears, usually with a cathartic viewpoint. CBT has been shown to be highly effective with regards to specific phobias, including hypsiphobia.

    Exposure therapy focuses on gradually exposing patients to their fears, and thus minimizing the effects they have. The first step may be talking about tall buildings or trees, and the feelings behind those fears. Then the phobic may look at pictures of buildings or aerial views. Once the patient is comfortable with these images, they may proceed to walking up large flights of stairs, going to the top of a building, or even bungee jumping. Exposure therapy has been shown to be highly effective for patients with hypsiphobia.

    Many patients with severe specific phobias also resort to anti-anxiety medications to lessen their symptoms. Unfortunately, medications can only help control symptoms, not treat them effectively. Thus, many medications are prescribed alongside active therapy.

    Ultimately, hypsiphobia can be an extremely debilitating mental health disorder if not treated effectively by a professional.

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